This paper is focused on the study of the effect of high heating rates on austenite formation of 18NiCrMo5 steel. The prior martensitic microstructure was characterized with scanning electron microscopy and Vicker micro-hardness. Then dilatometric tests were performed at 12 different heating rates (in the range of 100 - 3000°C/s), to evaluate the critical points and the key factor governing the austenite formation with high heating rates. After these tests, the microstructures obtained were analyzed by optical microscopy, scanning and transmission electron microscopy. The Ac1 and Ac3 temperatures initially increased with heating rate, reaching a maximum and then decrased. The formation of austenite from martensite, with low heating rates, was diffusive, whereas with high heating rates, it took place through a displacive mechanism. Moreover, a higher dislocation density characterized the austenite obtained with high heating rates.